Rahul vs Sitharaman on Rafale: What Went Down in the Lok Sabha
Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
During her nearly two-hour response to a discussion on the Rafale issue in the Lok Sabha on Saturday, 4 January, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused the Congress of resorting to “falsehood” to mislead the country. She gave a "point-by-point" rebuttal to the Opposition's allegations, including that on the price of the fighter aircraft and HAL not getting the offset contract.
Meanwhile, Congress President Rahul Gandhi accused Sitharaman of “running away” without answering his questions on the Rafale deal.
Here’s a recap of the debate between the defence minister and the Congress president in Lok Sabha.
What Nirmala Sitharaman Said
"I don't want to talk about Bofors because that is a scam and not Rafale. Bofors brought you (Congress) down. Rafale will bring Modi back to have a new and transforming India and remove corruption, which is stinking around the Congress," the minister said.
Countering the Congress' charge, she said it was the Indian Air Force which suggested that the government buy two squadrons or 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition instead of 18, as was planned to be purchased under the Congress-led UPA government.
She accused the Congress of compromising with national security in the interest of the party's "treasury" while deciding on buying 126 fighter jets.
Under the deal finalised by the NDA government, the delivery of the first Rafale will happen in 2019, while the last of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022, the minister informed the house.
Regarding pricing difference, Sitharaman said there was no formal price noting by the Congress of Rs 526 crore as the deal price. But the price negotiated by the NDA government is nine percent lower than what was negotiated by the UPA.
"Comparing the cost of Rs 526 crore with Rs 1,600 crore is like comparing apples to oranges. The cost quoted in 2007 will it remain the same in 2016, because there is escalation cost and there is exchange rate variation," she said.
"The price of the basic aircraft cannot be compared with price of weaponised aircraft," the minister further said.
Sitharaman alleged that the Congress was only shedding "crocodile tears" on the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) not getting the offset contract as it did nothing to scale up the capacity of the state-run firm.
Referring to negotiations of the Rafale deal during the rule of Congress-led UPA, the minister said, "You stopped the deal, forgetting the Air Force was suffering.
"You didn't conclude the deal, because it didn't suit you. The deal didn't get you money," she alleged.
"They did not intend to buy the aircraft till something else was done. There is something different between defence deal and deal in defence," she said, insisting that the Modi-led government gave priority to national security.
"You are misleading the country by saying the NDA government reduced 126 Rafale jets to 36. The Congress was supposed to buy 18 in fly-away condition, the NDA raised that to 36," she said.
Talking about the ADAG group, which got the offset contract for the fighter jet deals, the minister said the company obtained 53 waivers and concessions during the Congress-led UPA regime.
While countering Congress President Rahul Gandhi's claim that a French leader had told him that there was no secrecy clause in the deal, Sitharaman asked Gandhi to authenticate his claim on the floor of the house.
Questioning the seriousness of the Congress in discussing the facts of the Rafale deal, Sitharaman said when Finance Minister (and former Defence Minister) Arun Jaitley was speaking in the House on Wednesday, the opposition party members were clicking pictures and throwing paper airplanes.
What Rahul Gandhi Said
"The defence minister did not answer any of the questions I asked on the Rafale deal. She did not even take the name of Anil Ambani," Gandhi told reporters outside Parliament.
Gandhi said he put two questions to the minister towards the end of the debate and asked her to reply in yes or no.
"I asked that after a long negotiation process, those people who participated in that negotiations – Air Force chief, defence minister, secretaries, Air Force officials – when the prime minister did a bypass surgery... did the Air Force people object, yes or no?" Gandhi said.
"The PM cannot come (to Parliament), and the chief minister of Goa is saying, ‘I have a file and I will get back at the PM’. She gave a two-and-a-half-hour speech and did not answer any of the questions," Gandhi said.
(With PTI inputs)